ECRL’s fate rests with MRL-CCCC report

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on January 4, 2019.
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BATU GAJAH: There is still hope that the RM81 billion, 688km East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project will be back on track. However, much will depend on the outcome of a report from the project owner Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd (MRL) and main contractor China Communications Construction Co Ltd (CCCC).

However, there is no timeline as to when both of the companies will table the report, said Chinese ambassador to Malaysia Bai Tian.

“I have no information about that (when the report will be tabled), but I believe it will be soon. Both [the Malaysian and Chinese] governments are talking [about] the continuation of [the] ECRL and want the negotiation to go on at the project owner’s and contractor’s level. We are still waiting for their report before making any decision,” he told a press conference after a briefing by the management of CRRC Corp Ltd’s Batu Gajah plant here yesterday.

“ECRL is a good project for Malaysia because rail (transport) is more affordable for people. We hope this matter can be resolved based on mutual respect between the two countries,” he added.

The ECRL project was suspended in the middle of last year following Pakatan Harapan’s win in the 14th General Election on May 9. However, in a recent interview with Sin Chew Daily, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the government is still in negotiation with China on the ECRL project and that it may be downsized, provided that China agrees.

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Anthony Loke said the gesture to invite Bai along for a trip to CRRC’s plant here yesterday showed that the relationship between Malaysia and China remains intact and strong.

“I believe there will be more collaboration between both countries in the future, especially in the transport industry. On behalf of the Malaysian government, I invited CRRC to invest further in this plant,” he added.

CRRC Zhuzhou Locomotive Co Ltd president Fu Chengjun said it is part of the group’s strategies to have more local involvement in the plant.

However, he noted that local talent in the railway industry is scarce, and CRRC is working with several local academic institutions to introduce more training programmes to cultivate additional skilled labour in this sector.

CRRC’s Batu Gajah plant has been in operation for three years after its completion in 2015. Fu said the plant has created about 400 job opportunities for Malaysians.

Fu said to-date, CRRC has invested RM400 million in its Batu Gajah assembly plant, which has a capacity to produce 200 train cars per year.

“Currently, we are involved mainly in local projects like the KTM electric train service, and we hope to tender more local projects moving forward before we look for projects overseas,” he said.